Todd and Christie Bragg gave me a gift, and I’m going to attempt to regift some of what they gave me with these words. Todd turned 40 the other day. It was Sunday, December 18—the day of the Behold the Lamb of God concert at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium.
Christie put together a huge after party for Todd in the upper balcony of the Ryman. She invited what looked like at least a hundred friends. But it wasn’t just a party. It was a surprise party.
Todd is a drummer in Nashville and he’s worked with countless musicians in this town over the years, so he knows a lot of people. But Todd is not just a drummer with a lot of connections. He’s a very kind and generous friend who, when you’re talking with him, treats you like you’re the only person in the world. So this party wasn’t just a room full of business associates. I imagine most all of them would call Todd not just a friend, but a dear friend.
Christie is cut from the same cloth as her husband in this respect. These two serve others in the most beautiful way.
After the concert I found myself up in that balcony with all those people, but because I hadn’t brought my pass to actually get in to the party, the Ryman security guards made me stand over by the stairs, apart from the gathering of friends.
At first, I was irked by the security staff’s unwillingness to let me stand with the rest of the folks only 30 feet away, but when I began to assess my position, I realized I had a unique vantage point for what was about to happen—I stood in a place where I could watch Todd come up the stairs, see this throng of people for the first time and then react.
It was beautiful. There’s almost no way to make a crowd that big stay quiet, but when they got the signal that Todd and Christie were on their way up, they went silent as a stone. They ascended the stairs, and then it happened—everyone yelled “Surprise!”
People were laughing, waving, and eventually someone yelled, “Speech!”
Todd tried, God bless him. He tried. But Todd had lost the ability to speak.
Then Christie revealed a grace and strength that took this from being a surprise birthday party to a holy moment. She addressed her husband of 20 years in front of us. She spoke words of life and grace and affirmation and affection for him. She spoke these words to Todd, and also to the rest of us looking on. Strong.
Todd looked at his wife and said, “You got me. Wow. Look at all these faces of the people I love. Wow!”
I figure that given the best scenarios and the most closely kept secrets, most individuals will only step into one, maybe two properly executed surprise parties in their lives. If that. Either we’ll never have one thrown for us, or we’ll sniff it out and then just play along.
I spent that morning preaching about how the angels visited the shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem, and how it started with one angel appearing to the shepherds, but then as soon as he had told them that in the city of David a Savior—Christ, the Lord—had been born unto them, suddenly a great multitude of the heavenly host appeared praising God, singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to those on whom his favor rests!”
It was as if one angel had been chosen to bring the news of Jesus’ coming to the shepherds, so the others said, “Alright, but as soon as you spit it out, we’re bursting in—because this is the greatest news ever!” It was as though they were waiting behind the celestial corner of heaven’s door, and as soon as they were able they rushed in to celebrate what God was doing.
Seeing Todd take in that celebration made me think of those shepherds and what it must have been like to have the host of heaven throw a surprise party for them. “This gift is for you!” the angels told them.
There’s so much I think I know about what God is doing in this world. So much I think I have figured out. Todd’s party awakened in me a longing to be surprised by the joy of what I never suspected, much less understood.
Advent invites us to consider our lives in light of God’s salvation. And one thing it awakened in me, thanks to Todd and Christie, is that in this life I am being led by the hand of God through the concert hall that is this world, and one day he will lead me to the stairs, and together we will ascend. God only knows what I will find there, but I’m certain my reaction will be something like, “You got me. Wow. Look at all these faces of the people I love. Wow!”
Russ Ramsey is the pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church Cool Springs in Nashville, Tennessee, where he lives with his wife and four children. He grew up in the fields of Indiana and studied at Taylor University and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv, ThM). Russ is the author of the Retelling the Story Series (IVP, 2018) and Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017).